Sports card shops have come and they’ve gone.
Boy did they go during the mid and late-1990s.
Those stores that have survived the ups and downs of the hobby and lived beyond the “boom” haven’t done it on luck alone.
The survivors have been willing to diversify and run their stores like any other business. They make smart decisions, yes, but they also have the customer skills that successful businesses have always needed.
You’ve probably visited some bad shops. The ones where the owner seemed to feel he was doing you a favor by allowing you inside.
You’ve probably seen a few good ones too.
Many of the best shops follow the right formula to win customers’ loyalty and find ways to attract new business. If you’re thinking of opening your own shop or wonder why yours isn’t as successful as it should be, here are ten tips for making things happen.
1. Greet me. If I walk in the door and you don’t say hello or at least nod and smile, I’m already thinking about leaving. You opened your doors because you want customers, right? Here I am. Sell me something, yes. But make me feel welcome first. Talk sports with me. Ask about my collection. Tell me you’ve got tons of stuff and not all of it is on display in case I don’t see what I’m looking for. I know you need to be online and you’re probably selling there too. I get it. But if you’re operating a business, the customer in front of you is the most important one right now.
Take an interest in what I’m doing in your store. Think of things you may have in the back that I might be interested in. If your friend or best customer comes in, go ahead and chat them up. Just don’t abandon me. This isn’t a middle school dance.
2. Don’t whine. If I hear you complaining about business while I’m in your shop, whether it’s in conversation with me or someone else in the store or a phone call I can hear, I’m thinking ‘loser’. I don’t feel sorry for you. Instead of whining about your lack of customers or how long your day is, why don’t you work on doing something to make your shop a success?
I’m here to feel good and forget my own troubles. I don’t need to hear yours. Save it for when the doors close.
3. Keep it clean. If your store is dusty and dirty, I’m thinking you probably don’t have a lot of pride in it. I’m also thinking there’s no way you’re going to find that stack of old Topps inserts from the ’60s that I need.
You may have a lot of stuff that’s hard to move around but if you’re wheezing it might not just be because the pollen count is high. I expect a little clutter but I don’t expect to need a shower after I get home.
4. Variety is the spice of life. Have a little of everything. Higher-end boxes. Lower-end boxes. A decent selection of vintage sports cards. Some memorabilia, hopefully some of it older. Autographs. Game-used or antique sports stuff. And yes, if you’re opening a shop today, you probably need to know a little something about gaming and welcome that crowd on a regular basis. It’ll probably be a good chunk of your business unless you happen to be in a city with a lot of sports collectors.
If you’re promoting your shop properly, it should be considered more than just a card shop. You want to be selling the history of the games and showing off all of the different ways to collect. Chances are the dads of the kids who patronize your store will be more interested in that stuff and might become your customers.
5. Price your products. I’m not psychic. I know prices can change, sometimes on a daily basis. Changing them is your job. Do it. If you don’t, I’m going to ask you the prices of every card in your shop that’s not marked just to drive you crazy. And remember, some of your customers are shy. They just want to look and not have to talk to you until they’re ready to look more closely at something or buy it.
6. Take marketing seriously. Yes, you’ll need to take out some local ads but social media is free. Have a nice Facebook page you update regularly. Grab your customers’ email addresses and promise they’ll get first crack at new products, exclusive in-store specials and information they can use. Tweet regularly and find local collectors who are also on Twitter.
Is there a player or team in sports that everyone’s talking about? Invite your local TV stations and newspapers in and volunteer to be interviewed about it. Media outlets are always looking for local sidebar stories, features and short local “tie-ins” to national stories.
Ask to be a guest on local radio or TV talk shows.
7. Hire good help. If you can’t be in the shop all the time, I understand. Just make sure your employees have some kind of clue about the merchandise. Hiring people who only know how to run a cash register is a sure-fire way to frustrate customers who will quickly become ex-customers.
8. Have some special events. I want you to be ‘my’ card shop. Be more than just a place that wants my money. Do in-store box and case breaks, maybe even after hours. Hold pack wars and give prizes away. Have trade nights for kids and adults. Take card companies up on their promotions. Hold prize drawings and give me something once in a while. Hold a signing with a past or present athlete with low cost autographs. Organize an outing to a major or minor league game or other sports event.
You’ll get to know me and I’ll get to know you. It’s a little extra work, but if you thought this was a 9-5 job, you’re not ready for the life of a small businessman.
9. Don’t treat your shop like a museum. It’s supposed to be a gathering place for sports fans. Give me a place to sit. A table to open my boxes if you’ve got the room. Let me see whatever I want to see. Have a TV with sports on. If I’m not big on going to bars, this might be how I socialize. The longer I’m there and the more comfortable I am, the more product I’ll probably buy. If I prove myself as a good customer and decent company, don’t mind if I stay long.
10. Get involved in the community. If I know you’re working hard to be a good citizen by sponsoring a Little League team or putting an ad in the high school sports program, I’m going to try to help you succeed. Besides, it’s good for business when you’re actually part of the business community.
Engage with local business people through various networking groups. You might find some new customers and some local ambassadors who believe in you and you can never have too many of those.
Know of a good shop? Own one? We’d love to do a Q&A about the store, its customers and what makes it successful. Drop a note: [email protected].